THE FIRST PATH IS THE MOST DIFFICULT
Completed projects of RC "ST-PETERSBURG".
Even though Rotary appeared more than eighty years ago, its ideas and principles were not known in Russia. Therefore, like the first rotarians in the USA, we were the Rotary pathfinders in Russia.
It was in the late 80s..... An interesting time of changes, hopes and faith for a better future, a time of searching for new forms of communication. At that time I worked in the House of Friendship, where we often received representatives of different foreign public organizations. But at that time I did not go to the root of their ideology. And it so happened that in March, 1989, Frank Devlin, past director of Rotary International, as I found out later, came to Leningrad with a tourist group from Mexico, and we met. This charming and very energetic man spoke to me about Rotary for more than an hour. He left to me many publications about Rotary, including the "Manual of Procedure". But the main thing was that he convinced me that Rotary Clubs could be organized in the Soviet Union, and that they would be beneficial for our society. I told him that I was going to be the leader of a delegation which was to start on a cruise on a sailing-boat "Mir", and the aim of the cruise was to establish cooperation with the countries of the Baltic region. When Frank heard about that he told me that Rotary was an ideal organization for these aims and promised his full support. And he held his word - he sent fax messages to the governors of Rotary districts in Helsinki, Marienhamn, Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm with the request to give as much help as possible to our delegation, that included scientists, doctors, actors, writers and public figures. In all these cities Rotarians organized wonderful programs for us, helped start the necessary contacts, and, naturally, our delegation attended club meetings. We were received by Governors of Rotary districts and presidents of the first clubs of the capitals.
We bought everything needed and had tea once a week, observing the rules of meetings accepted in Rotary. The club was joined by representatives of different occupations - heads of enterprises and museums, lawyers, physicians, artists, scientists, heads of departments of the city authorities. We discussed the city problems and studied Rotary documents and the history of its creation.
Our organization group wanted to receive the recognition of RI and the official status of a Rotary club, but this proved to be a difficult task. We wrote letters to Rotary International, asked for help Rotary Clubs in the USA, Norway and other countries in Europe.
As Rolph Klarich from Finland, President of RI 1980-1981, told me later, approximately at the same time he visited Moscow twice together with Hugh Archer (President of RI 1989-1990). They first came in late 1989 on the invitation of M.Gorbachev, who did not find the time to meet with the President of RI. Later, during his visits abroad, Michail Sergeevich visited Rotary clubs in Japan, Italy and Spain. Moreover, Rotary International awarded him the Paul Harris Fellow medal.
But the lack of respect shown to the President of RI in 1989 considerably put off the establishment of rotary clubs in the Soviet Union.
Some time later A.I.Lukjanov, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, sent his personal representative to Clarich with apologies, and invited both he and Archer to come again. But during the second visit, despite a hospitable reception with limousines, police escort and a posh hotel, the head of the USSR failed to meet with them, and instead charged Mr. Petrovsky, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, with this mission. He finally gave the President of RI the needed guarantees. After that, the creation of the Moscow Rotary Club occured. The club included many representatives of the Moscow elite, which later led to considerable organizational difficulties.
The Finnish Rotarians were pleased with the state of affairs in our group, and told us that we were ready to apply for registration. They helped us complete the necessary documents.
Now we had to solve a great number of organizational problems. The most urgent one was the problem of a sponsoring club. The role of sponsoring clubs in Rotary usually means not financial but rather organizational support. The sponsor helps a new club to start its activities in accordance with the requirements of RI as well as to integrate into the world community of Rotary clubs by working on joint projects and organizing exchanges.
The first Finnish club in Helsinki was appointed sponsor club for the Moscovites, and we were given a club from Lappeenranta.
At first we were a little hurt by this decision: the first club in a city with five million inhabitants gets a sponsor club from a city with fifty thousand inhabitants.
But in this question the Finns were guided not by the considerations of prestige but by good sense and rationalism which are typical of them: Lappeenranta is the closest Finnish town to St.Petersburg, therefore all communications between us cost less than with other towns of Finland. As a result, we could have more contacts and exchange and get more practical help. We soon appreciated the wisdom of our partners in this question.
Besides Veikko Rusanen and Kaapo Pulkkinen much help was given to us also by Norwegian Kai Didricksen, whom our Club awarded an honourary title "Ambassador Extraordinary".
So, after the visit of Veikko and Kaapo in June, our Club was officially recognized by RI as a "Provisional Rotary club". On September 28, 1990 Paolo Casta from Brazil, President of RI, signed the Charter on the registration of our Club in RI.
The solemn ceremony of giving the Charter of RI to our Club took place, as planned, on October 24. More than a hundred guests from nine countries of the world came to attend the ceremony. The biggest delegations were, of course, from Finland and Norway (more than 30 Rotarians from each country). The arrival of four Rotarians from the Coronado Rotary Club, and the participation of a big group from Bombay, five past-presidents of all the five Rotary Clubs of Florence, as well as guests from Austria, Germany, Sweden, England was an overwhelming surprise for us.
We had expected, then, the arrival of Paolo Costa, President of RI, but he sent his personal representative, former director of RI, Ulli Meister from Heidelberg (Germany). As for Paolo, he visited us in May 1991, after taking part in a similar ceremony in Tallinn.
On the morning of October 24 we invited all our guests to the opening of the personal exhibition of Alexander Rychkov-Galaktionov, a member of our Club, and a well-know Leningrad artist. The exhibition was opened in the House of Friendship. It was followed by a reception in the Consulate General of Finland, which was given in our honour by Marcus Lura, Consul General.
After the tour of the city, our international and local guests had a party in the "Pribaltiyskaya" Hotel. Congratulations and greetings, came from around the world, and among them, from Harald, King of Norway, a personal greeting, and a personal appearance by the Mayor of Los-Angeles, who was in our city at that time.
Then the usual Rotary life started. Our Club moved to the House of Friendship on 21, Fontanka Embankment, and the meetings were held in the Red drawing room of the magnificent Shuvalov palace. We drew up a six-month plan of club meetings with the names of speakers and their topics. In January 1991 we took part in the first Leningrad TV/marathon, organized by the city authorities for collecting money to restore our city. We chose the project of helping the oldest Russian library, the library of Leningrad University, and transferred $ 2000 for this project to the Fund of Saving the City.
At the time of the hardest economic situation in the USSR, when the shelves of the shops were empty we received a letter from German Rotarians with the offer to help the families of our club members. We politely explained that our families were not in this degree of poverty, and suggested that their help be addressed to the 1st children's hospital. As a result, several German Rotary districts collected tens of thousands of dollars and received a Matching Grant from Rotary Foudation. This money was sufficient to buy expensive equipment for operations on the open heart of newly-born babies.
In May 1991 Paolo Costa, President of RI, visited this hospital and planted a birch tree in front of it. We all had a feeling of great happiness because many children's lives had been saved by that time with our help. The oldest Rotary Club of Milano also helped the children's hospital much with medicines, vitamines and wheelchairs.
The vitality of any service club, be it Rotary, Lions or Kiwanis, depends on its members, on how much the ideology of the club corresponds to the ideas and ideals of each club member, on how much the members are interested in being together, on how much they believe in achieving goals by joint efforts.
Of the first three Soviet Rotary Clubs, only the St. Petersburg Rotary Club succeeded in having a high percentage of the Charter members among its members. A reason for that was that we did not want elite or mercinary-minded people to join our Club.
Of course we made mistakes and lost some people but the core of Club has always remained strong . During these years thanks to Rotary International, I have acquired many friends and acquaintances. But as before the most valuable and unforgettable for me have been the meetings with the people with whom we started our club, and thanks to whom our Club exists. Among those I haven't yet mentioned are: Valery Musin, the author of the club charter, and the first Paul Harris Fellow in Russia. It is amusing that he was given the medal on November 7, 1990 in Florida; Vladislav Ginzburg - the first Club Service Committee Director and Past-president; Yuri Zavideev - the first Treasurer and Past-president; Yuri Petrov - the first director of the Community Service Committee, who did much for the coordination of humanitarian and given by our club to the city, Ivan Sautov, who was the organizer of more than ten important Club projects; Alexander Vasiliev, past-president; Dmitry Yeliseev who headed youth Committee for a long time; Dmitry Sollertinsky who made an invaluable contribution to the musical enlightment of our Rotarians and their families; Yuri Malyshev, past-president whose contribution to the establishment of the Club cannot be over-estimated; Vladimir Akhutin, the soul of the Club, who was the first to receive the honorary status "Senior Active"; Vyacheslav Kalugin, the counselor of RI students who come to study here; Valery Lozovsky, the photo-and video record-keeper of our history.
I mentioned the names of those members who have remained in the Club. Of the people who left the Club during the last seven years, all wanted to be with us, but had to leave for different life reasons. We think they temporarily suspended their membership, and when their circumstances change, they will return to the Club. It is important that they, being Rotarians, never tried to make their personal prestige higher. Just the opposite, the prestige of our Club was established thanks to the efforts of its members, and the club is forever in their debt.